What is the difference between softwood and hardwood? From where do these woods get their names? Find all about softwood vs. hardwood here.

Softwood Vs Hardwood

“Do you know the difference between softwood and hardwood?” “Wood is wood, isn’t it? What soft and what hard!” This is the typical reaction of a person who doesn’t know that softwood and hardwood are generic terms to specify woods on the basis of their usage. In fact, the difference is such that environmentalists suggest people to buy goods made out of softwood rather than the ones that use hardwood. In general you can say that both these woods differ essentially in their density which explains the difference in the usage of both. It is generally perceived that hardwood is always denser than softwood, but the truth is that some softwood can be denser and harder than the hardwoods. This means that density and hardness are not the main criteria of segregating wood as soft or hard. The major criterion which comes into play here is the kind of tree that the wood comes from. There are other major points of difference between these two types of wood discussed below. Go through the details and equip yourself with all the information about softwood and hardwood.
Difference Between Soft & Hard Wood
Type Of Trees
  • The major difference in these woods is that hardwood comes from trees that produce seeds with some covering over them. Softwood, on the other hand, comes from trees that produce seeds without any covering.
  • While hardwood essentially comes from angiosperm trees (most being deciduous trees) like oak, maple, ash, mahogany, cherry, teak and birch, softwood comes from gymnosperm trees such as, conifers. As such, softwood is generally obtained from trees like pine, cedar, cypress, redwood, spruce and larch.
The microscopic structure is another difference between the two kinds of wood.
  • While softwood contains essentially only two types of cells i.e., the longitudinal wood fibers and the transverse ray cells, hardwood also contains vessel elements for water transport which are visible in hardwood as pores.
Renewability & Availability
  • Softwood trees are usually well-known for their fast growth. Some environmentalists consider softwood products a lesser evil due to this and recommend people to buy softwood products.
  • Also, since softwood has a fast growing nature, it is more easily available and also inexpensive. This is a major reason to the fact that it accounts for about 80% of the world's timber production.
Common Usage Differences
Pellets are traditionally made out of compressed woods which can be both hardwood and softwood.
  • Hardwood is preferred owing to the low moisture content, thereby allowing the pellets to burn longer. Hardwood pellets produce more coals or denser ash, but steady heat.
  • Softwood may be preferred in case where more initial heat is required. Softwood pellets may have a shorter burning life, but produce a lot more heat initially.
  • Softwood pellets also tend to be easier to light, which makes them ideal for making campfires and other kindling whereas hardwood pellets being capable of giving steady heat for a longer time are generally preferred for cooking.
Wooden floors call for a lot of strength, durability and all sorts of endurance. And this makes hardwood a natural choice for floorings. However, that doesn’t imply that softwood cannot be used for the same purpose. Softwood is inexpensive and very readily available. Some softwood is harder than hardwood trees, which makes it a strong candidate for flooring. Softwood look equally good (however soft in the texture), but can dent and get creaky pretty easily, as compared to the traditional hardwood flooring.
The choice of wood and preference of one over another is an individual choice and essentially depends upon the kind of project that you are dealing with. You may want the hardwood for your drawing room, but for your kids’ room maybe softwood could be a good choice. But then again, it is a personal choice!

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